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The Secret to Better Grades

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Set an A+ Example continued...

Instead, value their schoolwork. Don't present it as a chore but as an endeavor that sparks your curiosity. Chat about their school projects and your work projects. "Play word games like Scrabble, Upwords, and Scattergories to build your child's skills. And Monopoly gets kids counting and helps with math," says Baker.

Also, don't put undue pressure on your child to spend free time, say, working on his algebra or reading only the classics. Be sure to encourage the lighter side of learning, too. Play educational games or do jigsaw puzzles as a family. And give your child freedom of choice when it comes to his leisure reading. When kids are doing something they enjoy, they retain more information, studies show. Says Lindsey Maxon, the SAT perfect-scorer: "My younger brother learned the word quiche from a comic book — it helped him win his school's spelling bee!" And here's how mom Erica Remer puts it: "Calvin and Hobbes may not be what I'd pick out for my kids, but it's better than reading nothing, and sometimes it's okay to just read for fun."

Unstuff Your Child's Schedule

While parents want to encourage their kids' academic achievements, a child's sense of worth shouldn't ride on his report card. Make sure he has some chill-out time, says Donahue. "Kids ages pre-K to 11 should have at least two days a week without anything scheduled, so they can de-stress and use their imagination," he says. "These are critical aspects of childhood, and such moments can't be recaptured."

Downtime can even create its own eureka moments. Graham Van Schaik, an 18-year-old college freshman at MIT, says playing outside while growing up in Columbia, SC, made him interested in the outdoors, from constructing backyard forts out of cardboard boxes to wondering how antibiotics given to cows affect the purity of their manure. His natural love for science led him to earn the second-place prize in this year's Intel Science Talent Search, one of the world's most prestigious science competitions.

Experts caution that, as kids get older, carving out free time gets harder, especially if the child is on a sports team or two and/or plays an instrument. But here's a tip: Have family dinners as often as possible. Studies have shown that they deliver a variety of academic and health benefits for adolescents.

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